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  • Avengers: Age of Ultron – The Latest Film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

    Age of Ultron is the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
    Age of Ultron is the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.



    It has been seven years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, and Marvel Studios began producing superhero films set in one consistent, shared fictional universe on the big screen. These films have been amongst the best-reviewed superhero films ever made, and the reputation continues to grow. In a world where comic book movies are being cranked out by the dozen each year, it is good to see that Marvel can still generate a quality product that easily trumps those of other studios, staying true to the roots of these classic characters that, in many cases, have been going strong in comic book form for over half a century now!

    Avengers: Age of Ultron is the eleventh film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having been preceded by Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers (AKA Avengers Assemble), Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy. This is the penultimate installment in “Phase Two” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will be wrapped up with an Ant-Man film later this year.


    Old and new heroes unite in an epic, cinematic battle. From left: Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.
    Old and new heroes unite in an epic, cinematic battle. From left: Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.


    Marvel’s Cinematic Universe only includes the characters to which they own the film rights, so their shared universe on the big screen does not include the X-Men or Fantastic Four, both of which are owned by Twentieth Century Fox. Spider-Man will be appearing in future films due to an agreement with Sony/Columbia, who owns the Spider-Man movie rights. In recent years the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded into television series as well.

    Avengers: Age of Ultron begins with the titular heroes storming an enemy Hydra base, getting their hands on a powerful artifact. With this newfound, unearthly technology, Bruce Banner/Hulk and Tony Stark/Iron Man  use their scientific minds to create Ultron, a long planned but cancelled defense initiative that can preserve peace throughout the world. Unfortunately, things take an unexpected turn when the newly created Ultron decides that human beings are a threat to peace, and sets out to eliminate them. Our newly reunited heroes must come together to do battle with a deadly enemy unlike anything they have ever faced before, with new friends and foes alike presenting themselves along the way.


    Ultron, voiced by James Spader, is the latest nemesis that the Avengers must unite to do battle with.
    Ultron, voiced by James Spader, is the latest nemesis that the Avengers must unite to do battle with.


    The 2012 Avengers film (AKA Avengers Assemble) was definitely the high mark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, making the first cohesive attempt to unite these heroes on the big screen after some promising solo films that were excellent in their own right. By all accounts that film should have been a disaster with so many characters crammed into one film, but director Joss Whedon proved himself to be more than up for the challenge, beautifully combining action and plot/character development alike. Thankfully, the same is true of this 2015 sequel. The plot thickens, the stakes are greater, and the character development is even deeper, foreshadowing potential future events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

    Combining so many characters with their own respective backstories into a single film is never an easy task, but the geniuses behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe have had triumph after triumph, and even with bringing together so much in a single film, have come out on top. Here we have a worthy piece of cinema, combining fast-paced, intense action, witty and hilarious one-liners, and a plot gets the job done and then some. By the end of the movie, you will be all the more eager for the next film combining these legendary characters.


    The Marvel Universe has been growing for decades. Age of Ultron could very well represent the single most Marvel Universe characters ever united in a single film.
    The Marvel Universe has been growing for decades. Age of Ultron could very well represent the single most Marvel Universe characters ever united in a single film.


    One thing I have constantly lauded Marvel Studios for is their casting choices in these films, and nowhere is it more noticeable than a film like this, with an ensemble cast of the best the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer. Every single casting choice the crew makes seems to work immensely well, no matter how big or small the part may be. Even the new faces in the film are exceptionally well chosen. You only have to see one film to see how well these casting choices work, and this is perhaps the best example of it to date!

    Any movie studio can make action movies, but Marvel Studios has found that fine line between action movies and thought-provoking drama in which the characters actually grow and develop over the course of time. We have seen these characters in several movies to date, and you are going to see them continue to change and evolve here, and later films as well. The Avengers are not a “dream team” where everything always goes exceptionally well in the storyline; there is conflict on display through a good portion of the film within the team, constantly threatening to derail them and change the status quo. The creation of the Ultron program and its ultimate intentions will definitely spark debate as to whether such a system is, actually, potentially a good thing. Moments like this help to set the content in the Marvel Cinematic Universe a cut above the rest when it comes to action-driven cinema. Put in the simplest terms possible, when these characters suffer, we actually a give a damn. Not every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is “great,” but none of them are “bad.” And Age of Ultron easily ranks in the upper tier of the movies produced as part of the shared universe so far.

    That said, as much as this Marvel fan enjoyed the movie, it is not perfect. Even with the movie already having been trimmed substantially for its theatrical exhibition, it does still feel a bit overlong and drawn out at times. Scenes of the Avengers trying comically to lift Thor’s hammer are good for a few laughs, but ultimately they end up weighing the movie down at some of the most vital moments. Potential romantic subplots and love triangles show themselves at times, and while this could make for some interesting development in later films, here it feels like padding on top of what is already a very “full” film, and it never quite comes full circle or pays off despite the occasional dramatic speech. Other characters could have been left out of the film entirely; their appearances here feel forced and contrived at times, and more like glorified cameos. Still, despite some flaws, the good in this film far outweighs the bad, and I doubt any fan is going to be disappointed with what they experience here.


    Amongst the new heroes to join forces with the Avengers is the Vision, portrayed by Paul Bettany.
    Amongst the new heroes to join forces with the Avengers is the Vision, portrayed by Paul Bettany.


    If you have never seen a Marvel film before, you may be curious as to whether you need to see the other Marvel Cinematic Universe films prior to this one. It definitely helps if you have seen all of the prior films in the shared universe prior to this, as you get the character development and get a better idea of where everyone is coming from and what they have experienced; this will definitely increase your appreciation for what happens on screen in Age of Ultron. That said, even if you have not seen the prior films, the plot is fairly easy to follow, and you will still find plenty of screen to enjoy and experience for yourself here.

    Avengers: Age of Ultron is another triumph for Marvel Studios, and serves as one of the most gripping, intense, and outright entertaining films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. The actors give some of their best performances so far, and director Joss Whedon has another triumph on his hands, keeping things moving along at a brisk pace despite the lengthy run time. Younger audiences will love this film for some of the best action scenes ever captured on the big screen, while older, more mature fans will love it for the development that we have experienced with these characters over the years in which they have played their respective roles. Avengers: Age of Ultron is highly recommended! No fan will be disappointed.


  • And Speaking of Scorpions…. the autobiography from Scorps drummer Herman Rarebell!

    And Speaking of Scorpions is the autobiography from Scorpions drummer Herman Rarebell, co-written by Michael Krikorian.
    And Speaking of Scorpions is the autobiography from Scorpions drummer Herman Rarebell, co-written by Michael Krikorian.



    With some of the biggest classic hard rock hits of all time, the Scorpions rank amongst the most legendary bands in the world. It was in the latter half of the 1970s that the band was joined by their classic drummer, Herman Rarebell. Rarebell’s participation with the band was one of the major catalysts towards reaching international status; it was the version of the band with Rarebell that would go on to record hits like “No One Like You,” “The Zoo”, “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” and “Big City Nights.” Even after his departure from the Scorps in the mid 90s, he has remained a busy man.

    And Speaking of Scorpions is Herman Rarebell’s official biography, co-written by Michael Krikorian. In this book you will get to read about Rarebell’s early life, including his musical education, and his earliest rock and roll endeavors, both in Germany and the United Kingdom. The story continues to a chance meeting with Michael Schenker that would lead to him being a member of the Scorpions for nearly two decades, appearing on the band’s most iconic songs and touring the world on multiple occasions, including an appearance in the Soviet Union in the latter 1980s prior to the fall of the USSR. Things continue beyond the band, as he would pursue running a record label and organizing other tours and projects in the musical world.

    Herman Rarebell’s life has been one of the most interesting in the music industry, with several decades worth of musical experiences and the like. For the most part, And Speaking of Scorpions is a triumph that accomplishes what it aims to deliver, giving the reader a portrait of one of the most iconic rock and rollers out there.

    One thing worth mentioning here is the overall tone throughout the book; Rarebell is a witty man and there are comical quips on almost every page. This is almost overkill at times, but it definitely gave this book a different tone from any other I have ever read, and made it all the more memorable. The chapters tend to be just the right length; only a few are excessively long, and only when necessary. The details cover the story and then some, allowing any fan of Rarebell to learn whatever they may want to know about this rock legend. While the focus is primarily on the Scorpions, things like the Herman Ze German solo album from the mid 1980s are not omitted either. You learn plenty about Rarebell’s life in the studio, on the road, and at home alike, plus what inspired several of the band’s most classic songs (and some of the stories behind these iconic hits are not what you would expect!)

    The book is not perfect, however. One of the biggest issues is that there is a very amateurish look throughout the book, with some grammatical and punctuation errors; I suspect this may have been released through a self-publishing company despite Rarebell having a co-author. The biggest problem I had with the book, however, is that there is next to nothing in regards to Rarebell’s post-Scorpions life. One of the most interesting points of his career is that he founded a record label with Prince Albert of Monaco following his departure from the Scorpions; this is barely mentioned or touched upon at all here. This fan would gladly pay for a book that focused exclusively upon Rarebell’s post-Scorps exploits, including that record label and his more recent tours and such (he is currently playing in Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock solo band). Let us hope that Rarebell eventually decides to release a follow-up book.

    The book has some problems, but as a die-hard fan of everything Rarebell has ever done, in and out of the Scorps alike, I have no problem recommending it despite the minor flaws. This is reading material well worth getting your hands on if you are a fan of Herman Rarebell and/or the Scorpions.



  • Happy Birthday, Brent Muscat – 48 Years Young in the City of Sin!

    On April 23, 2015, former Faster Pussycat/Sin City Sinners guitarist Brent Muscat celebrated his 48th birthday. Two nights later, at the Hard Rock Café (Paradise/Harmon location), festivities were underway to celebrate in his honor, with an all-star lineup of Vegas musicians, including everyone from youngsters to veterans of the Sunset Strip!




    Brent Muscat deserves serious credit for being one of the first people to spur on the growth of the Las Vegas music scene, since he relocated out here in the mid 2000s. This former Faster Pussycat guitarist has toured the world and worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry over the years. Being a founding member of the Sin City Sinners around 2007, Muscat has continued to entertain audiences in and around Las Vegas. Sinners guests have included some of the biggest names in 80s rock, and young up-and-coming rockers around the valley  trying to make a name for themselves in the music world. As such, Muscat is definitely someone responsible for making the music scene in Vegas what it is today.


    (Left to Right) Zachary Throne, Brent Muscat, Phil Lewis, Dominick Muzio, and Wayne Carver.
    (Left to Right) Zachary Throne, Brent Muscat, Phil Lewis, Blas Elias, Dominick Muzio, and Wayne Carver.


    You can tell how respected a part of the music world Muscat is based on how many showed up to pay tribute to him on this special day. No less than a dozen musicians from other bands, and up-and-coming rock and rollers of tomorrow came around for the occasion as well. Musicians involved with Muscat’s celebration included local bands Outta the Black and Wicked Garden, Siana King, Phil Lewis (LA Guns), Nadir D’Priest (London), Louie Merlino (Beggars and Thieves), Wayne Carver, Zachary Throne, Blas Elias (Slaughter), and many others!


    Birthday cupcakes with Zachary Throne and Phil Lewis!
    Birthday cupcakes with Zachary Throne and Phil Lewis!


    This rotating all-star band of the best artists in Vegas made for some great moments on the Hard Rock Café stage. The evening started off with some original songs with Siana King on vocals, who is one of Las Vegas’ rising talents, and one that Muscat and company have definitely taken notice of. Wicked Garden played some of the best rock hits of the 1990s, including work by Stone Temple Pilots and Bush.


    Brent Muscat and Wicked Garden.
    Brent Muscat and Wicked Garden.


    Blas Elias and Zachary Throne took the stage to perform some of Slaughter’s biggest hits; the multi-talented Throne (he is a self-taught musician, actor, AND voice-over artist!) sings these songs far better than Mark Slaughter is capable of doing in this day and age. Phil Lewis took the stage to sing some classic LA Guns tunes, and Nadir D’Priest gave a kick-ass rendition of the Judas Priest version of “The Green Manalishi.”


    Nadir D'Priest of London performing Judas Priest's "Green Manalishi".
    Nadir D’Priest of London performing Judas Priest’s “Green Manalishi”.


    Zachary Throne performing "Fly to the Angels" by Slaughter.
    Zachary Throne performing “Fly to the Angels” by Slaughter.


    Of course, you need to have some Faster Pussycat tunes if you are going to celebrate Brent Muscat, and Louie Merlino gave us great renditions of “House of Pain” and “Bathroom Wall.” There were no dull moments throughout the entire evening.


    Beggars & Thieves' Louie Merlino performing the Faster Pussycat classic "House of Pain".
    Beggars & Thieves’ Louie Merlino performing the Faster Pussycat classic “House of Pain”.


    It was great to see the turnout for this event; no shortage of rockers and fans alike showed up to pay tribute to one of the 80s rock’s greats who has called Sin City home for a decade now. No one in attendance would disagree that this was a great night of rock and celebration alike!


    Happy Birthday, Brent!
    Happy Birthday, Brent!


    All photos © Stephy Hayward / ZRock’R Magazine

  • B-Side Ourselves – The Sebastian Bach-era Skid Row Release that Time Forgot!

    B-Side Ourselves is an EP released by Skid Row in 1992. It is comprised entirely of cover songs.
    B-Side Ourselves is an EP released by Skid Row in 1992. It is comprised entirely of cover songs.



    In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Skid Row was one of the most promising high energy hard rock bands in the land. The group has endured for years, but never topped their classic lineup of Sebastian Bach, Rob Affuso, Rachel Bolan, Scotti Hill, and Dave “Snake” Sabo. It was this lineup that recorded the band’s first three albums, Skid Row, Slave to the Grind, and Subhuman Race. Bach was fired from the band following the release of the latter album, and there has never been a reunion of that version of Skid Row.

    But, this is a review covering a little known release in the band’s catalogue. Following the release of Slave to the Grind, the group released an EP entitled B-Side Ourselves, featuring five cover songs from artists that had influenced the quintet. Amidst the three studio albums the classic lineup of the band recorded, this release is often overlooked and forgotten. Is this release worth adding to your collection if you are a Skid Row/Sebastian Bach fan?

    For this EP, Skid Row picked out a good assortment of tracks; very diverse but ones that the band all manages to do justice to. One thing I admire about Skid Row is how varied their musical influences were, covering multiple facets of the rock and roll spectrum. Skid Row fans will agree that this is an underrated release from the group and one that is essential to pick up. What are the songs on here and how do they fare? Read on to find out!

    -“Psycho Therapy” (featuring Taime Downe of Faster Pussycat, originally by the Ramones)
    Not surprisingly, the Ramones remain one of the most popular bands out there for classic hard rock bands to cover. Fast paced and heavy, this one scores points for staying true to the high energy feel of the original, but the group also manages to put their own spin on it as well.

    -“C’mon and Love Me” (originally by KISS)
    It is no secret that Sebastian Bach is one of the biggest KISS fans on the planet. The group deserves credit for performing a song that is not necessarily the most obvious choice to cover as well. Once again, the group does justice to the song, but they do not simply copycat the original; all the more reason I enjoy Skid Row’s take on this one!

    -“Delivering the Goods” (featuring Rob Halford, originally by Judas Priest, recorded live)
    The speech Sebastian Bach gives before this one makes it clear what admiration that he has for Priest’s iconic frontman. The two of them team up on stage to deliver a blistering rendition of one of the most legendary songs in the Priest back catalogue. This will never be mistaken for the original, but that is not necessarily a bad thing either. Halford’s presence makes the moment all the more iconic and interesting.

    -“What You’re Doing” (originally by Rush)
    Bach and the boys could easily have covered any of the most obvious of Rush hits following Rush’s transformation into prog rock legends. Instead, the group opted to give us fans a cover of a song from the band’s first studio album, back when they were still more traditional hard rock and did not yet begin working the prog rock into their music. This is another instance of the group doing a good job covering a classic tune, but at the same time, taking ownership and making it their own.

    -“Little Wing” (originally by Jimi Hendrix)
    You cannot deny the impact Hendrix had on many of those that grew up to be classic hard rockers. Again, major credit for the band not picking an obvious hit song. The group is able to maintain the melodic feel of the original song, but still makes it rock hard at the same time. It is the best of both worlds, and definitely one of the better Hendrix covers out there.

    Overall, this is a fantastic EP. Even though it is only about 20 minutes in length, all five tracks are superb cover songs that deserve to be heard. Do not overlook this release if you are trying to build a collection of CDs covering Skid Row’s most iconic and classic years. Highly recommended to all fans of Skid Row and/or Sebastian Bach.


  • The Heavy Metal Pack is Back – Raven Rocks Hard on Their Newest Record, ExtermiNation!

    ExtermiNation is the 13th full length studio album from Raven.
    ExtermiNation is the 13th full length studio album from Raven.



    Raven is one of the most legendary bands of the New Wave of British Heavy metal (NWOBHM) and one that has actually managed to survive and endure to the present day. Founded by brothers John and Mark Gallagher in the 1970s, Raven was a band that attracted legions of fans, though never quite got the worldwide fame and success that they deserved. The band replaced classic drummer Rob “Wacko” Hunter with Joe Hasselvander in 1987, who has remained with the group ever since. Over the course of four decades and a dozen albums, Raven has outlasted many of their NWOBHM brethren, and continues to make their mark on the rock and roll world.

    Raven has been a massively influential band over the decades, though ironically many of the bands that they influenced became far more popular than Raven themselves. This has not stopped them from rocking out, recording, and touring the world, doing what they do best. They are amongst the greatest of the bands the NWOBHM had to offer, and to this day, still produce hard and heavy rock that is unrivaled by other bands.

    ExtermiNation is the 13th full length studio album from Raven. Funded via a Kickstarter campaign, this is the band’s first full length studio album since 2009’s Walk through Fire, and one long awaited by fans of the group. So, how does the group’s latest effort measure up? Is this is a release worth your money, or should these guys throw in the proverbial towel and call it a day?

    Raven has always been a band combining hard and heavy riffs with fairly juvenile, simplistic lyrics and themes, and that is definitely true on the band’s latest release. Right from the get-go, ExtermiNation is a hard and heavy record that epitomizes everything that is great about the band. A straight-up, hard and heavy album that may very well be their hardest and heaviest in two decades is what fans will find here. If you are a fan of the band, it is a pretty safe bet that you are going to like what you find on this record. This is Mark Gallagher at his best when it comes to serving up heavy metal riffage, and you will be thoroughly rocked from start to finish. Some bands wuss out and go poppy or bluesy as they get older. Raven has opted for the opposite approach, giving us their heaviest record in years. And this fan likes what he hears.

    Throughout the record’s duration, there is very little that is not hard or heavy. Even the slower songs rock hard. There are some fairly brief acoustic moments, but they do not last too terribly long; this album belongs to the hard and heavy, and rightfully so. The album itself is fairly coherent; no song feels out of place. This fan, for one, is pleased to see a band that, even in this advanced age, can still record hard and heavy rock and roll. The production is considerably cleaner and more modern than the classic albums the band released back in the day, though it never feels overly polished or clean either, doing a good job bringing out the band’s heaviness.

    At 15 tracks, the record is excessive and a bit much to digest. It probably would have worked better with 10 of the best tracks rather than the full 15 here; though would you expect any different from a band that released an album called Nothing Exceeds Like Excess? The overlong run time is definitely not a deal breaker though, not one song on here is “weak.”

    ExtermiNation is Raven at the hardest and heaviest they have been in years. The result is a superb heavy metal album that the fans have been in need of for years. Raven’s followers will agree that this one was worth the wait. While a bit overlong with a run time that exceeds an hour, the good far outweighs the bad here. The Pack is back again, and with their return they have brought us some of the best music they have recorded in years. To any fan of classic style hard rock and heavy metal, ExtermiNation comes strongly recommended.